Southeast Asia Treaty Organization

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SOUTHEAST ASIA TREATY ORGANIZATION. The signing of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty in Manila on 8 September 1954 by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines led to the establishment of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in February 1955. The Republic of Vietnam as well as Cambodia and Laos were accorded observer status. But the governments of Burma, Ceylon, India, and Indonesia all rebuffed invitations to be signatories to the Manila Pact, as the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty was known. SEATO was established primarily at Washington's instigation in the aftermath of the French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnamin April 1954. It was part of an emerging global U.S. led containment strategy directed at the Soviet Union and "international communism" generally and, in the case of Southeast Asia, at the People's Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(North Vietnam) specifically. It was hoped that SEATO would strengthen the diplomatic and territorial arrangements in Vietnam that had resulted from the Geneva Conference in 1954.

The main significance of SEATO may have been that it formalized the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia, at a time when the administration of Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1960) had embarked on an increasingly costly attempt to help turn the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) into a stable noncommunist nation-state under Ngo Dinh Diem(1954–1963). U.S. foreign policy was increasingly constrained by the limits on its military effort to win the war in Vietnam, and SEATO reflected these limits, particularly Washington's inability to gain more widespread multilateral support. Although the United States and three other member governments of SEATO (Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand) sent troops to Vietnam (as did the nonmember government of South Korea), the organization itself played no real role in the conflict.

SEATO was seriously disabled from the outset by internal differences and the lack of an underlying strategic interest around which its member governments could coalesce. The governments of member countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, and Pakistan were as concerned about military threats from other powers in the region as they were about the Soviet Union and China. For example, Pakistan's commitment to SEATO faded in the 1960s because of the organization's unwillingness to support the government in Karachi in its conflict with the Indian government that led to war between the two countries in 1965. Pakistan announced that it was withdrawing from SEATO in November 1972, a year after the second war between Pakistan and India in December 1971 had led to military defeat for Pakistan and the transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh.

The French government, meanwhile, boycotted a key 1965 SEATO meeting at which the U.S. wanted member governments to commit to increases in aid and support for the government of South Vietnam. From the beginning of the 1960s the British government was also reluctant to make a military commitment to the looming conflagration in Indochina. Following what was seen as tepid British military support for a U.S.-led effort to counter an apparent threat to northern Thailand by Laotian communist forces in 1962, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives expressed the view that, unless the British (and the French) governments were more forthcoming, the Manila Pact needed to be rewritten if not terminated. By 1967 Britain was attempting to disengage completely from military affairs east of Suez. SEATO was further undermined in early 1972 when the administration of Richard M. Nixon (1969–1974) embarked on its historic rapprochement with China. In February 1974 SEATO's military structures were abolished, and in June 1977 the organization was disbanded. The treaty on which SEATO was based was not discarded, however, because it represented the only formal security agreement between the government of Thailand and the United States of America.


Buszynski, Leszek. SEATO: The Failure of an Alliance Strategy. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1983.

McMahon, Robert J. The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia Since World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Mark T.Berger

See alsoVietnam War .

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The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was an alliance organized pursuant to the Southeast Asia Defense Treaty to oppose the growing communist influence in Southeast Asia. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, and Pakistan signed the treaty and accompanying Pacific Charter in Manila on September 8, 1954. The treaty became operative in February 1955 and bound the signatories to mutual aid to resist armed attack or subversion; an armed attack on one signatory was interpreted as a danger to all.

Headquartered in Bangkok, SEATO relied on the military forces of member nations rather than commanding its own standing forces, as did the north atlantic treaty organization. In its first few years of operation, SEATO's effectiveness was not tested, but at the beginning of the 1960s, conflicts in South Vietnam and Laos challenged the strength of the alliance and ultimately found it lacking. France withdrew from military cooperation in SEATO in 1967, and Great Britain refused active military cooperation in the Vietnam conflict. Moreover, a 1960s dispute between Pakistan and India further undermined the efficacy of the alliance: Pakistan drew closer to communist China, while the United States provided aid to India.

In 1972 Pakistan completely withdrew from the alliance; in 1974 France suspended its membership payments. In September 1975 the signatories decided to phase out the operations, and SEATO was formally dissolved on June 30, 1977. The collective defense treaty remains in effect, however.

further readings

Buszynski, Leszek. 1983. SEATO, the Failure of an Alliance Strategy. Singapore: Singapore Univ. Press.

Grenville, J.A.S., and Bernard Wasserstein. 2000. The Major International Treaties of the Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge.

Schoenl, William, ed. 2002. New Perspectives on the Vietnam War: Our Allies' Views. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America.

State Department. 1995. Treaties in Force. Publication 9433.

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Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Regional defence agreement signed by Australia, New Zealand, France, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Britain, and the USA in Manila in 1954. It was formed in response to communist expansion in Southeast Asia. With administrative headquarters in Bangkok, SEATO had no standing forces. Some members were unwilling to support the USA in the Vietnam War and SEATO was abandoned in 1977. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) replaced the non-military aspects of the treaty.

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Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. See SEATO.


Southeast Asia Treaty Organization